coastal people

Jozsef Szasz moved to Brunswick from Romania in 2000 looking for work and fell in love with the area, opening his own boxing gym in downtown Brunswick 15 years ago.

Local boxing instructor Jozsef Szasz, the owner of Brunswick Boxing and MMA, came from humble beginnings overseas.

“My background is not too complicated,” Szasz said Friday, sitting in the office of his gym on Gloucester Street in downtown Brunswick. “I boxed in Romania and Hungary, and I came here to work. I was working at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, and I found out there was no boxing gym here.”

His passion for boxing runs deep, he said, and he took to it right away as a child in Romania.

“When I was 12 years old, my dad took me to a wrestling gym,” Szasz said. “I was like, ‘No this is not for me.’ I wrestled for nine months. On the other side of the gym, we had wrestling here and on the other side boxing. I saw boxers for the first time hitting the bag and moving around, and I said ‘Man, that’s such a beautiful sport.’ I just fell in love with the sport, and I’ve been doing it since then.”

Szasz, 50, moved to the U.S. in 2000. Shortly after, he started training at a boxing gym in Kingsland.

He was certainly no stranger to competitive boxing even then. The same year he started training at the Kingsland gym, he competed in the Georgia Games — an annual multi-sport competition styled after the Olympics — in Atlanta, taking home a medal in boxing.

“I was the Romanian junior champion, and I won several championships in Hungary. I had 81 fights, so I have some experience,” Szasz said. “I trained a lot of people in a lot of different countries, like Germany to Bulgaria and Romania, Hungary, Austria, Denmark. I trained a lot of coaches, and that’s how I got my experience.”

When a friend came around looking to open a gym in Brunswick, he jumped on the opportunity.

“That’s how it all started,” Szasz said. “We opened this in 2004 or ’05, and he got out after that, about three years later. Since then, I took it over.”

Other gyms in the area offer kickboxing or jiu-jitsu, and his gym offers mixed martial arts training, but he prefers teaching traditional boxing.

“It’s not baseball or basketball or any other sport,” Szasz said. “You don’t play boxing. This is a serious sport, and it’s a hard sport and it’s the most beautiful sport. People from the outside don’t see the beauty of the sport, they just see two people punching each other in the face. But it’s not like that. It’s a lot of strategy. It’s like chess. Like a chess game, you always have to be one step ahead of your opponent. It’s a mind game.

“You have to be tougher mentally than physically. You have to imagine yourself how you’re going to win your fight, how you’re going to land that punch, how you’re going to protect yourself, how to listen to your trainer, how to do everything the way you should do.

“You have to believe in yourself, you have to be confident, you have to test yourself against a bigger challenge every time. If you win the first fight? OK, then in the second you challenge yourself, all the way to go to the top. If you go to the top, what happens? They’re going to challenge you, and to keep at that level it becomes harder.”

Opening his gym had always been something of a dream, Szasz said. He trained people in boxing and kickboxing back in Europe, many of which went on to win awards, and he wanted to do so in America as well.

It takes a lot of commitment, he said. Most people can’t hack it in the ring. In Brunswick, he said it’s not uncommon to see promising boxers leave to pursue an education or to find better jobs.

“It’s a hard sport,” he said. “You have to admit, it’s a very hard sport.”

More than anything, Szasz said he’s seen a significant drop in the number of American heavyweight boxers since his days in the ring.

“We have a lot of big fighters, good heavyweights, but they’re all playing football,” Szasz said. “That’s why America suffers with heavyweights, because they’re all playing football. I wish they gave a lot of scholarships like before.”

Throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s the U.S. produced great heavyweight boxers, he said, but as football became more popular their numbers shrank.

“It’s easier to be a football player than a boxer. A lot easier,” Szasz said. “...Only the kids who are too little or something, not athletic enough, they come to box because they can’t do anything else. But anybody can box. If you’re a small, skinny kid, you can go into a small weight division.”

He doesn’t think boxing is going to disappear, though. Over the years, Szasz said boxing seems to have become more popular as a form of exercise and improving muscular control than a competitive sport.

Whether he’s training someone for competitive matches or fitness, it’s just as rewarding an experience for him.

“Nothing is a better feeling than seeing someone getting better and better and better every day. You don’t have to be a fighter, just anybody,” Szasz said.

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